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This is Hard!

"Come on, come on…" I muttered aloud to myself as I stared intently at the "pylon," the intersection of two roads, off my left wing. I was practicing "eights on pylons" and was struggling to keep my wingtip on the pylon while maintaining coordinated flight, but try as I might, I kept falling behind. I knew that I was supposed to push the nose down to speed up in this case, but my altitude was already uncomfortably low. I must have chosen the wrong "pivotal altitude" to start the maneuver or the wind had shifted or… something! Whatever it was, I wasn't getting it, and I was starting to get frustrated.

The maneuvers for the Commercial certificate turned out to be harder than I expected, and despite all that I've written about the observe-act-observe cycle and the importance of mistakes in the learning process, for some reason I was still surprised by this. Old habits die hard!

In his column in this month's issue of EAA's Sport Aviation magazine, Brady Lane describes his own struggles to complete his Private Pilot certificate. He concludes that while flying itself is often easy, finishing something you've started is usually hard. This got me thinking about just what we mean when we say something is hard. I think we really mean that it takes repeated attempts before we start getting the results we want consistently. Put that way, it seems pretty obvious that the way to learn something hard is just to keep trying until you get it right. What could be simpler?

Well, it might be simple, but I've never found it easy. I'm chagrined to realize just how much harder I've made the learning process over the years by agonizing about how hard it is—by believing that finding something hard means that I'm deficient in some way. Thinking back on the low points in my flying career, the times when my confidence and enjoyment were all but gone, I can see how completely unnecessary were the frustration, anger, and general mental anguish I put myself through—just because something took time to learn.

For extra credit, I also realized how miserable I can become by comparing myself to others. It's so tempting to conclude that because someone else seems to be learning a skill more quickly than I am that it means I'll never learn it, or I'll never do it as well as they do. But the truth is that different people find different things hard—and they learn at different rates.

Sometimes I think that the competitive culture of military aviation, or the popular perception of it, has had a negative influence on civilian flight training. The military pits aviators against each other to deliberately wash out the slower learners so they can focus their training resources on the "top guns." This makes sense from an economic point of view if you're training warriors at taxpayer expense. But if you're paying for your own training to learn to fly for your own reasons, what difference does it make if you learn more slowly than someone else? It might take you longer and cost you more, but the only way you're going to "wash out" is by giving up. If you want that pilot certificate badly enough, you'll do what it takes to earn it.

Meanwhile, as of this writing, I still don't get eights on pylons. After many attempts, I'm out of ideas about what to try next. So I guess by my definition, that means they're hard—and I'm OK with that. I'll just schedule another lesson with my instructor Bill so he can help me see what I'm missing. I'll just keep trying until I can consistently do them well.

Thanks, Brady, for the reminder that "hard" is just a natural part of accomplishing anything worthwhile. And congratulations on the Private!

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